Are you sound sensitive?

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. George Bernard Shaw

 Have you ever turned the radio on, determined to listen to the news or weather forecast, and next thing you know it’s over - and you didn’t take in a word. A nuisance maybe, but quite painless otherwise.

Creative people - think dyslexia, AD(H)D, autism - are known to struggle with the written language: reading and writing.

Are you Sound Sensitive?

We are less aware of quite how sound sensitive they can be. This they have in common with HSP (Highly Sensitive People) and strongly affects how they process sound.

They might hear more than other people and pick up on sounds others don’t hear at all, like the high-pitched sounds of electronics. They often don’t distinguish between fore- and background noise. This can make a café ambience, a classroom or party exhausting, if you don’t just hear the person you are talking to, but also all the conversations around you.

As visual thinkers they can be slow to process the meaning of spoken language: the threshold for how much spoken language they can absorb can also vary and be very low at times. Fatigue, emotional upset or hunger can all bring the tolerance for spoken words down. It is easy to overlook this in everyday life, not realising that a child or co-worker’s ability to hear doesn’t equal her ability to absorb the meaning of the communication.

I often see this in my practice. Parents will talk good sense to their listening child and get impatient when these words appear to have been forgotten or ignored later on.

Visual Thinkers

As visual, picture thinkers creative people need to translate words into real-life and concrete mental imagery. This process is by no means automatic. A boy told to ‘get ready’ needs to see that this means shoes on, teeth brushed and bag packed.

One girl poignantly described how short her window of tolerance is, before the sound of language mutates and she no longer hears individual words; everything blurs into one on-going hum.

A young boy described to me how confused and upset he can get and that the increased talk and interferences of his family make it feel as if he’s being attacked by a word monster, trying to eat him up:

Others just switch off when the talking begins.

We don’t always realise how much ongoing talk and chatter there is in classrooms and offices. This can lead to exhaustion and a sense of isolation for a sound sensitive person. Is it any wonder then that these children end up inhabiting a world of their own or, that they are easily upset or angered.

3 Tips for Sound Sensitive People

Here are 3 TIPS to make a big impact immediately:

1.      Sound sensitive people are often musical or very affected by music. Play music, learn to sing or choose what helps you calm down and listen to it when sleep is difficult or you feel in a state of overwhelm. My children used to love the sound of waves on a beach; clock bells are very soothing and of course, everyone fares well on the Mozart effect.

2.      Take daily ‘quiet time’ as it was called by my children; alone-time enjoying the magnificent sound of silence. (Without electronics!)

3.      Even if you are not sound sensitive, always be reminded of Shaw’s words quoted above. When in conversation with anyone at all: take responsibility for finding out whether communication has taken place. Watch people switch off, glaze over and ask children what they need. Shorter sentences, slower speech and regular breaks can make the world of difference for young children.

Let us know what your experiences are and what you do to manage your speech processing problems better.